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Sports media is willingly allowing its audiences to be suckered by former NBA referee Tim Donaghy (again) and Philly’s Mike Missanelli is Exhibit A

As someone then deep into the research and writing about the 2003-07 NBA betting scandal, I purchased former NBA referee Tim Donaghy’s book when it was published in 2009.  I also listened to many of his related interviews at the time.  Almost immediately, I realized it was simply the latest Donaghy con job, and couldn’t believe practically no one in the media caught onto the hustle.  Instead, the vast majority of the media actually facilitated Donaghy’s scam! 

As a white-collar crime researcher with an interest in literary frauds, I have often referred to Donaghy’s book as the sports version of James Frey’s now-infamous A Million Little Pieces (made popular by Oprah Winfrey, first exposed by The Smoking Gun).  Because many sports media hosts have uncritically accepted Donaghy’s myriad demonstrable falsehoods, enabling and assisting his con, I have on occasion attempted to correct the record.  After all, this is one of the most significant scandals in the history of U.S. sports.  I began documenting Donaghy’s ongoing fraud and related scams almost a decade ago and can imagine what someone like James Randi experienced debunking hustlers like Uri Geller and Peter Popoff years ago.

Interested parties can revisit some of these matters online (see, e.g., my evidence-based assessments of Donaghy’s claims broken down by outright falsehoods vs unsupported claims [likely to be falsehoods]; and my critiques of his 2009-10 media appearances here and here). 

One of the media personalities who gave Donaghy a forum to hustle his audience in 2009 was Mike Missanelli,of 97.5 FM The Fanatic in Philadelphia.  In fact, at the end of Donaghy’s (essentially fact-free and shrewdly ingratiating) appearance, host Missanelli wished Donaghy good luck, adding, “I hope your life evolves to the point where you really can be proud of it.”

Among dozens of insulting and offensive Donaghy appearances over the past decade, Missanelli’s “interview” was among the most problematic.  Missanelli is a former journalist for the Philadelphia Inquirer and a law school graduate, and listeners are told they can expect something more than the standard sports radio talk show shock jock shtick.  Indeed, Missanelli recently admonished someone on Twitter in this regard, stating, “Obviously, u haven’t heard my interviews, so one day you’ll learn,” while his on-air colleague tweeted, “Mike doesn’t just ‘interview’, he cross-examines.”

Given all the above, I was eagerly anticipating Missanelli’s 11/1/19 interview of Donaghy and his lifelong friend/ NBA betting scandal co-conspirator Tommy Martino as they promoted Martino’s dubious film, Inside Game.*

What follows is an evidenced-based review of the vital claims Donaghy (and to a far lesser extent, his fellow conspirator/convicted fraudster Martino) made to Missanelli and his audience.  As you’ll see, nothing has changed since 2009 when it comes to Missanelli’s command of/regard for the facts.

For starters, Missanelli had Donaghy and Martino in the studio together, which should have afforded golden opportunities to expose the many consequential issues and contradictions between them over what transpired during the scandal.  Perhaps the easiest string of questions which should have been asked concerns the film’s official description, which reads (emphasis added):

In 2007, when NBA referee Tim Donaghy (Eric Mabius) got caught betting on games he worked, he said two men associated with the Gambino crime family – a bookie named Baba Battista (Will Sasso) and a drug dealer named Tommy Martino (Scott Wolf) – threatened to kill his family if he didn’t give them gambling picks. That’s what Donaghy told the FBI, that’s what he told 60 Minutes, and that’s what he testified in court. But that’s not what really happened. That’s not even close. INSIDE GAME is the untold true story of one of the biggest scandals in sports history.

You are reading that correctly.  The promo for the Martino film explicitly states Donaghy lied about matters of vital importance for more than a decade.  Was it too much to expect host Missanelli to alert his audience to this, and to then inquire about this fundamental curiosity – with Donaghy and Martino feet from him, no less?  If I had to guess, Missanelli and his crew were wholly unaware of these fundamentals (along with much else, as you’ll discover).

Please find below the most consequential matters about which Missanelli’s audience was (again) misinformed.  Anyone really paying attention will notice the questions are, themselves, predicated on Donaghy’s false narrative (Missanelli appears unaware of this, too).

The Donaghy-Martino appearance began with this exchange:

(1:33) MM: “Alright, here’s the story, in case you don’t know the story, but it’s pretty well known.  You [TD] provided inside info to gambling buddies off, primarily, a referee’s master list that came out in the morning, knowing the tendencies of certain refs. And the inside information you got on injuries and edicts from the League on how to balance calls, and you used that information to provide at first to a golfing buddy… Primarily you knew of referees’ tendencies to not like certain players or coaches and hence the calls would go against those particular guys, and that was one of your major assets in winning bets, right?”

(2:37): TD: “Oh, absolutely and we won at like an 80% clip.”

You will note host Missanelli doesn’t say the above is Donaghy’s (self-serving) story; it is presented to his audience as the story (i.e., as though its fact-based history).  And herein lies the problem with the entire appearance.  Missanelli is clearly unaware all of Donaghy’s key assertions have been debunked.  About this exchange, listeners should know Donaghy has always claimed he didn’t fix games and that his bets were instead based on “inside information”.  Furthermore, he argues he bet more on games he didn’t officiate during the ’06-07 season.  This would all make sense, of course, if “inside information” accounted for his betting interest and success, not his on-court behavior.  As I and others have explained in detail, with the exception of a few bets in the 2006-07 season (the last of the four NBA scandal seasons), all the wagers were on games Donaghy officiated.  The reason for that is obvious – those were the games he could influence with his on-court actions. The only reason professional gamblers learned of the scandal in the 2003-04 season was the outrageous winning percentage of certain bets exclusively on games Donaghy was officiating.  The very few bets placed in ‘06-07 on non-Donaghy games were losers, and pro gambler Battista thus stopped taking them.  Sources for that?  Pro gamblers, including those who proffered with the government, Battista, AND TOMMY MARTINO, who also cut a deal with the feds after perjuring himself in front of the grand jury; betting line data and betting records illustrate this clearly, also).

The next area of Missanelli “inquiry” concerned the following Donaghy staples, each of which was uttered without a hint of evidence-based pushback from host Missanelli: (1) Donaghy decided to stop betting on games he officiated with his golfing buddy Jack Concannon in 2006 but then (2) “mob-connected” gambler Jimmy Battista (3) threatened him and his family unless he began betting with Battista.  Not one of these three items is true, so let’s see how Missanelli “probed” Donaghy and Martino (emphasis added):

(2:46) TD: “We [Jack Concannon and I] stopped at one point and Battista tricked Tommy into going down to the airport Marriott where I was staying one time.”

(3:30) MM: “Alright now, Tommy, you’re the kind of the go-between of this whole thing.  Battista is the mob-connected guy.  How does he know that you [Donaghy] have this expertise in picking these games?”

(3:36) TD: “Battista knows because they were watching what Concannon was betting with Pete Ruggieri, so they knew.”

(3:37) MM: “So there was a bookie…” (overtalking)

(3:38) TD: “There was a bookie named Pete Ruggieri that Jack was going through, and they saw that we were winning an enormous amount of the time so they started piggyback[ing] the bets and making a lot of money, so when we would stop you know that’s when they wanted to continue to get the picks and that’s when Battista went to Tommy.”

(4:02): MM “Alright, they strong arm you, Tommy, and there’s this meeting and, Tim, you are allegedly threatened by this semi-mob-connected guy that if you don’t cooperate he’s gonna hurt your family?”

(4:16): TD “That, and he’s gonna, uh, ya know, possibly expose the fact that I’ve been gambling, and my contract stated that I couldn’t place a bet at any time.”

(4:23): MM “So he’s gonna dime you out, basically? Alright, so now the extortion part is involved.”

(4:27): TD “Right, so either way I just felt like I was going to lose my job so I was gonna roll the dice and provide picks for him for the next three months [i.e., the rest of the NBA season].”

(4:35): MM “Now, people will look at this and go, ‘Okay, that’s a big justification.  Ya know this mob guy’s involved, and that’s only giving you an excuse to do what you what you’re really likin’ to do, anyway.’ How do you answer that?”

(4:52) TD: “I didn’t want to do it with Battista but I was gonna lose my job if he went to anybody in  the NBA and said I had been gambling for years, uh, so it was something ya know when he tricked Tommy into setting up the meeting that I agreed to do it.”

(12:05) MM: “Let me ask you, Tommy, did you know you were taking this guy [Donaghy] down the well? What were you feeling this whole time? He’s making the bets, we got this other mob guy over here, you know that his life is going to be in ruin. What did you think your responsibility was? You grew up as friends.”

(12:20) TM: “Yeah, so Battista came to me and wasn’t specific as to why –  the reason why – we had to have a meeting with Donaghy.  He just said to me, ‘Tommy, Timmy’s in trouble. We need to meet with Donaghy next time he’s in Philadelphia.’ So, me being worried about Timmy, I said, ‘What the hell did he do now?’, ya know?  So…I said ‘Tim, when are you gonna be in Philly again?’ I didn’t tell him about Battista. He said, ‘They’re playing the Celtics this day,’ and I said, ‘Ayyight, I’m gonna come down and see ya.’  On the way down Battista told me that he…Battista caught wind of the fact Timmy was betting through Jack Concannon and Pete Ruggieri.”

(13:00) MM: “So you had to tell him that?”

(13:02) TM: “That’s what Battista told me.”

(13:04) MM: “And that was it. You’re on the hook.”

(13:05) TM: “That was it. And we went in there and it was different. Batista held up a napkin with ‘2k’ on it.  And said, ‘Timmy, give me the games not Jack’.”

And one last point re “the mob” threatening Donaghy came a bit later (emphasis added):

(16:00) MM: You quote a mob capo in your book, Mike Franzese, who has since reformed himself and become a born again Christian or whatever and his message to you because you communicated with him was that you’re always going to be looking over your shoulder.  Do you feel that?

(16:16) TD: For sure. I mean, I think I definitely feel that way.

Whew!  Where to begin debunking this utter nonsense?  Perhaps the best way for someone like Missanelli to understand the core problem here is to pose him this question: “Would you ask Philadelphia Eagles coach Doug Pederson if he is ‘always looking over his shoulder’ in fear of ‘the mob’?”  Of course not.  Why, then, ask Donaghy?  The only reason – like all else with this narrative – is because Missanelli bought Donaghy’s self-serving bs in the first place.  Indeed, the predicate of the entire appearance and “interview” starts with Donaghy’s misinformation.  Missanelli is apparently unaware these matters were vetted by federal authorities (who LOVE hyping organized crime cases, by the way, especially in New York, where this case originated), and resolved in court (not to mention the considerable follow-up research by many data-driven folks).  The feds never discussed this as an organized crime case (in court docs/proceedings or in the press), and they never viewed it as an extortion case.  This level of historical ignorance in the media is a problem.  My goodness, we have known all of this for a decade.

As a brief refresher: Judge Carol Bagley Amon (1) described the conspiracy among Donaghy, Battista, and Martino as a business “arrangement”, before she (2) added that Donaghy was “more culpable” than his co-conspirators (not exactly what you’d hear if Donaghy was an extortion victim, which is why Battista was never even charged with extortion).  Furthermore, following his proffer sessions and guilty plea negotiations, the government wrote that Donaghy “has never taken the position that he was anything other than a willing participant in the scheme with Battista and Martino, and, before them, with Jack Concannon.”  Is Missanelli aware of any of this?

Want more details about this specific absurdity?  Okay, please consider this…especially given current events.

Since Donaghy is out hyping Tommy’s MARTINO’s film WITH MARTINO, perhaps it might be enlightening to see what MARTINO told the FBI about the above.  The following are from FBI 302 summaries of MARTINO interviews contained in his confidential FBI file (again, recall he proffered with the government after he got caught perjuring himself in front of the grand jury).

Actual context re that December 2006 meeting at the PHL Marriott between Donaghy, MARTINO, and Battista (“Baba”) occurred, according to MARTINO?

“Donaghy complained that Concannon was not giving him any money so he wanted to start giving picks to Baba.”

What about Battista allegedly threatening Donaghy, according to MARTINO? (emphasis added)

“Martino never heard Baba threaten Donaghy in any way.  Martino had the impression that Donaghy wanted to provide the picks to Baba for Donaghy’s own financial gain.  Martino was not aware of Baba ever threatening Donaghy that he was going to hurt Donaghy or tell the NBA about the betting.”

On this consequential matter, you should also know that when Donaghy was released from prison in 2009 and hyping his book, he referred to MARTINO as a “Gambino Crime Family member/associate” who threatened him and his family.  When it suited his purposes (garnering attention for business interests, minimizing his culpability in the scheme, inviting sympathy), Donaghy said Battista and MARTINO (men he knew for years) were mobsters, assuming – correctly – the media wouldn’t pause to consider the FBI and other law enforcement agencies never made such claims (despite an interest and motive to do so if it was remotely plausible).

When Martino recently approached Donaghy with an offer to help market Martino’s 2019 film, Donaghy altered his talking points to split Martino from Battista; now Martino, too, was a mob extortion victim and no longer a “Gambino Crime Family member/associate” doing the threatening.  And Martino is clearly willing to allow Donaghy to spout his nonsense as long as it helps the film project.  As I have chronicled elsewhere, this is now at least the fifth Martino version of events (starting with his perjurious testimony before a grand jury), each suited to the needs of the moment.  Hopefully at some point people will grasp the latest scam going on with these two.

Oh, and since folks like Missanelli believe “the mob” threatened Donaghy, which of course according to Donaghy was the reason for his 2006-07 NBA season crimes, please also know the following.

Instead of being “relieved” pro gambler Battista went into rehab (as Donaghy claims – after all, now “the mob” wasn’t making him fix/bet his games so he stopped!), here is what really happened.  Battista went into rehab for addiction to prescription pills on 3/18/07.  The scheme continued, however, simply with a different pro gambler, Pete Ruggieri (often wrongly identified, as in this “interview”, as a “bookie”).  Like Battista, Ruggieri isn’t a mobster whatsoever, and like Battista he never threatened Donaghy to keep fixing/betting games he officiated.  Once Ruggieri correctly assessed the scheme after a handful of games officiated by Donaghy (betting lines were moving considerably – word was out the games were being fixed), Ruggieri shut the scheme down.  Source for that?  Pete Ruggieri.  Don’t believe Ruggieri (who, like Donaghy, Martino, and other pro gamblers, cooperated with the feds)?

Here are the relevant portions of what MARTINO told the FBI:

“Around March 2007, Baba went into drug rehab.  At that point, [Donaghy] told Martino that he wanted Martino to continue the scheme with Pete Ruggieri.”

And (emphasis added)…

“After Ruggieri decided to shut the scheme down, Donaghy pushed Martino to take one more game.”

If the media did its job they would notice Battista’s plea deal is for activities through March 2007 (when he went into rehab), while everyone else’s plea agreements are for activities through April 2007.  Now you know why.  It is simply a shrewd, self-serving Donaghy lie “the mob” was involved at all, much less that it accounted for Donaghy’s crimes in the ’06-07 season.  If Donaghy is looking over his shoulder for anything, it shouldn’t be for “the mob” it should be for a conscience.

Incredibly there is much more demonstrably absurd discussion in the 26-minute Donaghy-Martino appearance on Missanelli’s 11/1/19 show (e.g., retired FBI SSA Phil Scala’s supposed comments, Martino denying he was the source of the info re Donaghy’s alleged Las Vegas mistress, Donaghy’s book, Donaghy’s alleged addiction, the FBI and NBA investigations, etc.), but you get the point.

While I am open to the possibility media types like Missanelli may be aware of Donaghy’s falsehoods but consciously ignoring them for content, clicks, and ratings, I don’t believe that is what is happening.  Missanelli is clearly unaware of everything penned above, even though the information has been available for years.  I would love to know what the career hustlers could have said to Missanelli on air which would have sufficiently troubled him, causing him to realize this was all bs and alerting his audience to this reality.

With the evidenced-based critique of the Missanelli interview of Donaghy and Martino behind us, let’s return to host Missanelli ironically boasting of his probing interviewing skills.  Just in case you think this is being overstated, here is what one of his broadcast team members tweeted about the appearance:

It is sad to say, but I don’t believe this is radio shtick.  Rather, all evidence points to this radio crew (like plenty of others) being wholly unprepared for an evidenced-based interview, and thus the result was allowing Donaghy to manipulate and hustle their audience (again).  Indeed, after the 11/1/19 Donaghy appearance, Missanelli boasted he “just about cross-examined him.”

The Missanelli interview disgrace is unfortunately the rule with Donaghy’s numerous media appearances, and I have yet to see an evidence-based exception in this round of attention.  That Missanelli is a former journalist and law school grad promoting himself as a serious analyst on a major platform, however, arguably makes it worse.

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 I went on to publish a critically-acclaimed and best-selling book on the scandal, along with presenting my findings at academic conferences and training law enforcement professionals, attorneys, etc. on the matter.  My work was also cited in a formal statement before the U.S. House Subcommittee on Commerce, Manufacturing and Trade hearing in 2016.

*I was invited by the producers to take part in the Martino film.  Once I grasped the scam, I turned it down without hesitation – they made it very clear historical accuracy was irrelevant and that profit, however achieved, was the only goal.

Martino reached out personally to Battista, who turned the opportunity from his old friend down for the same reasons I did.  Unbeknownst to me until very recently, Battista was approached later for him to accept a fee to promote the film.  Want to guess who reached out – on repeated occasions – offering a fee to Battista, the “Gambino Crime Family member/associate” Tim Donaghy continues to say threatened him and his family in 2006?  Yep – Tim Donaghy!  Battista turned the money down again, of course, but not before Donaghy offered his early take on the film to Battista, texting, “Just an FYI I watch the movie.  In my mind you are portrayed the best buy the actor that plays you.  Me and Tommy come across as a little stupid and dumb.”

How people don’t get that Donaghy is a con artist (and worse) is a mystery to me.  Perhaps it is because prominent personalities like Mike Missanelli continue offering the discredited and disturbed Donaghy a comfortable, inviting forum, which implicitly affords Donaghy legitimacy and lends credibility to his bs.

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